Marlborough High students best in state in Real World Design Challenge

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By Art Simas Community Reporter

Marlborough – Nine teams wanted to compete. Four teams entered. And now, one team – Marlborough High School (MHS) – has won the Governor's Cup and will represent the state in the national Real World Design Challenge in Washington, D.C., this month.

This dream team, named Team Pizzazz, dethroned the reigning state champion, Newburyport, by a score of 244-168.

The squad includes: seniors William Andrade, Matthew Bailey and Nicholas Strella; sophomore Jessica Mendoza; and freshmen Rachel Dass, Alec Deveau, Christopher Ortiz and Matthew Whitmore.

Newburyport was tops in the commonwealth in 2008 and 2009, and also finished second in the nation two years ago (2008).

Marlborough earned the highest marks from a panel of judges at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge Feb. 1 through 15.

The other two teams were from Milton and Lowell.

This was the first time Marlborough had entered the Real World Design Challenge, which began in 2008 as an innovative partnership to enhance science, technology, engineering and mathematics education with the goal of training tomorrow's engineers, especially in the aerospace industry.

All competitors nationwide were given the task of designing a better energy-efficient wing for a Boeing 737 commercial aircraft.

Marlborough will be honored as the 2010 champion at 9:30 a.m. Monday, April 11 in the Little Theater at MHS. Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, as well as other local and state officials, will congratulate all participants and wish them well in their quest for the national title.

The team, minus one player, will hit the road April 15 through18 for an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., where they'sl face a panel of experts from the aeronautics field, science and design engineers who will judge them and 27 other teams on their logic, presentation, ingenuity and marketing flair.

The team will update its report and then prepare its verbal presentations before the panel in Washington. According to Ken Hanson, a technology teacher at MHS, was the lead teacher/ coach and coordinator of the project.

“We have to do a 20-minute presentation first,” Hanson said, “then if we'se selected in the top three, we then have to do a 15-minute presentation, fielding questions from experts in aviation, design and computer technology.

Hanson was assisted by inhouse staff including Kathleen Richov, science/technology/ engineering department coordinator for Grades 6 through 12; Paul Duplessis, an architecture/ engineering and technical drawing teacher who helped with software and drafting; and science/ technology/engineering teacher Michael Kennedy, who was involved in the physics and math portions of the project.

Bob Stetson, airport manager at Marlborough Airport, and Elizabeth Dass, a project manager for JDA Inc. of Rockville, Md., were mentors.

“This is truly a remarkable achievement,” Stetson said. “It's a testament to the quality of instruction and the students themselves. I wouldn's be surprised to see one of these young people become the next Bill Gates or someone like that. And I wouldn's be surprised if they won it all in Washington.”

Stetson said the Real World Design Challenge has been coordinated with the state Department of Transportation and Aviation. All managers of local airports have been encouraged to reach out to the communities, he said.

“So when I saw the schedule, I called Kathleen Richov and she introduced me to Ken Hanson,” Stetson said.

“I told Ken, “If you feel you want to do this, I'sl support you in any way I can.”

“And he said, “Bob, it's not IF. We ARE going to do it.” That was mid-October,”

In essentially two months, the team put together a design and 35-page proposal discussing their ideas and creativity.

“This was a very unique opportunity for the students and the school,” Dass said. “They had to stretch themselves to learn new skills and new ways of working together across multiple classes and teachers.”

One nagging problem centered on the software that was essential to the project.

“Halfway through completion, the software license expired,” Richov said, “so we had to deal with that type of crisis situation.

“These kids were presented with an opportunity and exposed to real world thinking and problems. They ran with it and excelled,” Stetson said.

Too often, society overlooks academic achievement in favor of athletic prowess, he added.

“We have to do a better job of recognizing our academic achievers if we are ever going to realize the concepts of educate, innovate and build that the president talked about in the State of the Union Address. That's something we need to change.”

“If we win the whole thing, we'se going to have a ticker-tape parade in Marlborough,” Hanson said. “This is a huge thing. It's the first time Marlborough has won an engineering competition before. We'se done well in science fairs, but this is something totally different.”

“The kids have done a great job,” he continued. “Win, lose or draw, I's really proud of what they'se been able to accomplish.”

In Massachusetts, Real World Design Challenge partner industries include: Parametric Technology Corporation, Hewlett- Packard Corporation, Business Educational Partnerships Group, Mentor Graphics, Education Development Center, MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Massachusetts NASA Space Grant and others.

On the national level, the annual competition is sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the U.S. Dept. of Defense, U.S. Department of Energy, Federal Aviation Administration, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Francis Tuttle Technology Center and others.